UPDATE: Highly pathogenic bird flu strain confirmed at Banham Poultry farm in Redgrave
- Credit: Archant
Preparations are under way to cull 23,000 birds at an East Anglian poultry farm after confirmation that the site is infected with a highly-pathogenic strain of bird flu.
A suspected case of avian influenza was reported on Sunday evening at Bridge Farm at Redgrave, near Diss – a breeding unit managed by Banham Poultry.
Animal health officials have now confirmed the virus is the same highly-pathogenic version of the H5N8 strain which has been found in wild birds and farmed poultry in other areas of the UK since December.
This will activate a strict set of biosecurity controls and movement restrictions within the surrounding 10km surveillance zone, as well as veterinary visits to all poultry premises within 3km.
Specialist equipment is due to be delivered to the farm this evening to slaughter around 23,000 birds using 'containerised gassing units', a process which is expected to begin tomorrow morning. After that, the business will face a costly cleansing and disinfection process.
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Earlier today, Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) officials and vets were at the farm gate, monitoring the hygiene and disinfection of any people and vehicles entering the premises, and assessing the health of the flock where several birds have already died.
Although the infection can be fatal for birds, Public Health England said the risk to public health from the virus remains 'very low' and the Food Standards Agency stressed that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.
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Anthony Greenleaves, veterinary head of field delivery for the APHA, said: 'We have standardised processes for culling in this incidents using what are called containerised gassing units. This is exactly the same principle used for when these birds go into processing premises to be culled, and it is all strictly controlled by animal welfare legislation. They are then removed from the site and taken to a rendering plant.
'The livestock industry is in the business of producing livestock, ultimately for human consumption, so the processes involved in this are not foreign to them. Nevertheless, dealing with this level of pressure is traumatic, difficult and challenging, and I have every empathy for everyone involved.'
Mr Greenleaves said work is under way at the farm to determine the source of the infection.
A spokesman for the Attleborough-based Banham Group, which employs 1,000 people and turns over about £130m per year, said: 'The infection was confirmed after we notified Defra following increasing mortality in one of our flocks. They will now be humanely culled by the authorities in accordance with EU legislation.
'Birds at our other farms appear healthy and there is no evidence of any spread of infection. All of our staff are trained in biosecurity management and we are ensuring that the controls that are in place are rigorously followed. We will continue to cooperate with the authorities to ensure that the situation remains under control.'
The 10km zone surrounding the outbreak, along the Norfolk-Suffolk border, has a high concentration of poultry businesses, which will now need to adhere to a tightened set of movement restrictions and biosecurity measures to prevent further spread of the disease.
NFU (National Farmers' Union) Norfolk county adviser John Newton said: 'It's disappointing but not unexpected news that we are dealing with 'high path' H5N8. Our priority is now to help our members' businesses.
'This is an important area for poultry farming with more than 70 farms within the 10km zone. These include businesses with day-old chicks waiting to be moved and farms with chickens that need to move to slaughterhouses.'
One business inside the 3km protection zone is Gressingham Foods, which has already ceased duck production at its slaughter plant at Redgrave, temporarily halting all bird movements in the area and transferring production to its Debach site, near Woodbridge in Suffolk.
The company said: 'The site near Woodbridge is outside any restricted zone and therefore we can continue to process and supply our duck. During a brief period of transition there may be some disruption in supply and we will keep all customers informed of their order status on a day to day basis.
'We repeat that our birds are healthy and unaffected by the outbreak, and we have no immediate issues with the supply of ducks to our Debach site during this difficult time.'
For full details of the restrictions inside the 10km surveillance zone and 3km protection zone, see the Defra web site.